Thomas Cranley

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Thomas Cranley, Archbishop of Dublin, 1397-1417: from his brass at New College, Oxford. Showing the archiepiscopal mass-vestments and the cross and pall. Date, about 1400

Thomas Cranley DD a.k.a. Thomas Craule ( c.1340–1417) was a leading statesman, judge and cleric in early fifteenth-century Ireland, who held the offices of Chancellor of Oxford University,[1] Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

Early career[edit]

He was born in England about 1340; little seems to be known about his family. He entered the Carmelite order. He is recorded as a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, in 1366. He became Warden of New College in 1389[2] and Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1390.[3] He was a Doctor of Divinity and a judge.[4]

Irish career[edit]

In 1397, on the death of Richard Northalis, he was made Archbishop of Dublin and arrived in Ireland the following year. After the accession of King Henry IV, Cranley undertook a diplomatic mission to Rome, and was made Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1401. When Henry's son Thomas, Duke of Clarence, was made Lord Deputy of Ireland, Cranley was appointed to his council. A letter which he sent to the King around the end of 1402 painted a grim picture of the state of English rule in Ireland. Cranley assured the King of his absolute loyalty to both the King and his son, but implored the King to send over money and men since "your son is so destitute of money that he has not a penny in the world ... and his soldiers have departed from him, and the people of his household are on the point of leaving."[5] The King, who was generally short of money, is not known to have responded to this plea. Cranley himself could probably have contributed something to the Deputy's expenses: certainly, he was sufficiently well off to lend the Mayor of Dublin 40 marks in 1402.[6]

The pressure of official business, combined with the effects of ill health and old age, made Cranley increasingly unfit to perform his duties, and in his later years the functions of the Chancellor were usually carried out by his deputies, first Thomas de Everdon, then Laurence Merbury. Cranley resigned as Chancellor in 1410, but in 1413 the new King Henry V reappointed him to that office. This is a tribute to the high regard in which the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Shrewsbury, held him. He also acted as Justiciar of Ireland, following the sudden death of Sir John Stanley, although in view of his age and ill health it was understood that this was only a temporary appointment. As Justiciar he was assisted by a military council, made up of such noted soldiers as the Gascony-born knight Sir Jenico d'Artois.[7]

He became prebendary of Clonmethan in north County Dublin in 1410: in 1414 he was sued by the Crown for recovery of the profits of the prebend for the previous two years, on the grounds that he had been an absentee prebend, but the lawsuit was dismissed when Cranley produced the King's letters patent authorising his absence.[8]


In 1417 he was asked to present a memorial on the state of Ireland, which was highly critical of Lord Shrewsbury's record as Lord Lieutenant, to the English Crown. He reached England, but he was an old man even by modern standards, and in frail health. The journey proved to be too much for his constitution, and he died at Faringdon in Oxfordshire on 25 May. He was buried in New College, Oxford: his memorial brass survives, and the inscription on his tomb hails him as "the flower of prelates".[3]

Appearance and character[edit]

Early historians praised Cranley for both his mental and physical qualities: "thou art fair beyond the children of men, grace is diffused through thy lips because of thine eloquence" wrote one particularly eloquent admirer. He was described as tall and commanding in appearance, with fair hair and a ruddy complexion; his personality was witty, eloquent and learned. As a cleric, he was described as charitable to the poor, a notable preacher and a great builder of churches.[5] The Parliament of Ireland in 1421 praised him as the model of what a good chief governor should be.[9]


  1. ^ Hibbert, Christopher, ed. (1988). "Appendix 5: Chancellors of the University". The Encyclopaedia of Oxford. Macmillan. pp. 521–522. ISBN 0-333-39917-X.
  2. ^ Salter, H. E.; Lobel, Mary D., eds. (1954). "New College". A History of the County of Oxford. Vol. 3: The University of Oxford. Victoria County History. pp. 144–162.
  3. ^ a b Ball, F. Elrington (1926). The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921. London: John Murray.
  4. ^ Wood, Anthony (1790). "Fasti Oxonienses". The History and Antiquities of the Colleges and Halls in the University of Oxford. p. 33 – via Internet Archive.
  5. ^ a b O'Flanagan, J. Roderick (1870). Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal in Ireland. Vol. Two volumes. London.
  6. ^ Calendar of Irish Chancery letters c.1244-1509 20 November 1402
  7. ^ Otway-Ruthve, A.J. History of Medieval Ireland Barnes and Noble reissue 1993 p.348
  8. ^ John D'Alton History of the County of Dublin 1838 Hodges and Smith
  9. ^ Beresford, David "Cranley, Thomas" Dictionary of Irish Biography Cambridge University Press
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by Archbishop of Dublin
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by Wardens of New College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chancellor of the University of Oxford
Succeeded by